By Okello Lucima
No matter where the boundary markers fall, the population still have the rights to live on their land
What is happening to the Acholi community in Apaa, Amuru District, is nothing but blatant, brutal ethnic cleansing, orchestrated by the state.
Unless and until the border between Adjumani (Madi) and Amuru (Acholi) are clarified, there is no basis for the state and its agents –police and army-to brutalise and evict anyone. The actions of the police and the army clearly demonstrate that, the state is already acting partially-in favour of Adjumani (Madi)-by uprooting and evicting Acholi ethnic group from the disputed land. How do the army and the police -the state- know that the survey will show that Apaa is in Adjumani (Madi), before the surveyors have done their work, so that the Acholi who have lived here for years should be evicted? This already show that, prior decision has been made, and the survey is simply meant to formalise a political and illegal decision made elsewhere than by facts yet to be discovered by plotting known and historical geographical positioning systems (GPS) data on the ground.
Furthermore, this is a civic and political matter; and if there were any law and order implications in the impending exercise to clarify the boundaries by surveyors, a civil force; the police, rather than the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), should have been deployed to keep law and order. As we speak, both the UPDF and police are on the ground and have committed torture and atrocities against innocent citizens and indigenous peoples of Apaa, who are of Acholi ethnic group (Saturday Monitor, April 4, 2015 and New Vision, April 7, 2015).
Granted, there may be need to clarify the boundary between Acholi (Amuru) and Madi (Adjumani), but the focus should be on that fresh survey to ascertain the demarcations. Such an exercise cannot be accompanied or undertaken with unnecessary eviction and brutality and terror the way the police and UPDF have done.
In any case, no matter where the boundary markers fall -once the demarcation is complete-, the population -Madi inside Acholi or Acholi inside Madi- would still have the rights to live on their land, as ethnic Madi but civic citizens of Acholi / Amuru District; or ethnic Acholi but civic citizens of Madi / Adjumani district. This is a historical fact and reality that the state, for whatever reasons, seems to be in a hurry to obliterate.
Evicting the population ahead of the demarcation is nothing but ethnic cleansing. This is a messy and slippery slope that the government in its drunken short-sightedness, may live to regret.
Uganda’s administrative and political boundaries have one cultural group or another living as minorities inside one district or sub region or another, while their brothers and sisters are majority on the other side of the border. What is happening in Apaa, will have far reaching domino effects on such communities, starting with Acholi – Madi relations. The current government approach to the dispute in Apaa, if it succeeds, will set a precedent and could spur retaliatory actions elsewhere, where either of the communities are settled as minorities; and other parts of the country with such intermingling of cultural groups across political and administrative boundaries.
The Acholi-and Madi communities and their leaders must close ranks and reject and resist the evil hand of the state, which is bent on muddying the waters of centuries of civil coexistence and peace between the two communities.
The two communities should accept the need to clarify the border lines for civic administrative purposes, but must reject any notion of ethnic cleansing of either community, whatever the result of the boundaries clarifications.
If the border should extend inside Adjumani, the Madi settled there are Acholi citizens and they have a right to their land as ethnic Madi, who are civic citizens of Amuru / Acholi. Similarly, should the boundary markers show that Apaa, settled by ethnic Acholi is actually part of Adjumani, those ethnic Acholi are civic citizens of Adjumani / Madi, and they have all the rights to, and live on, their land. This means there is no need to demolish schools, health centres and uproot their settlements. And like elsewhere, if they consent to their land to be used for other purposes, the law and due process must be followed. There should not be the brutal military occupation and force as we have so far seen; which is nothing but a stupid ethnic cleansing strategy whose consequences will be more than the clueless bureaucrats in Kampala ever imagined.
Moreover, the claim that Adjumani donated this parcel of land to the Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) is lame, opportunistic and self-serving. The land in question is disputed by the two districts. How can Adjumani assume ownership, for it to go ahead to allocate it to UWA? In addition, this is customary land; neither district, nor the state has any authority to parcel it out to anyone, without the expressed consent of the communities living there. The government must stop using statutory bodies to dispossess helpless people of their land and means of livelihood.
It is time for the government to step back and review its hasty and uninformed actions in Apaa; lest it opens a can of worms that no one will be able to withstand the stench. Better retreat into the confines of reason and social justice, before this saga makes nonsense of our already tattered national integration and unity under thirty years of ethnicised state under the NRM.
Okello Lucima is the spokesperson of the opposition UPC party